Science, Technology & Medicine

Rotary phones, Party lines...
Alphabetic prefixes (GEneral 7-2746)...
...and your phone was Property of the Bell Telephone System.
Rotary phones  Rotary phones
Also see "all-digit dialing" in the "Life Before" gallery.

Listen to the Pre-TouchTone dial tone

Listen to the telephone really ring

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There are 17 comments for this item.

Posted by Duff at 12:09 am (PDT) on Tue March 29, 2022   
Concerning the pre-TouchTone dial tone (more like a buzz)...

When new films take place in the '50s and earlier, they naturally use rotary phones, but they often get the dial tone wrong, and I always notice.
Posted by Bob Matthews at 11:31 am (PDT) on Sun July 24, 2016   
and in New York there was "Dial-A-Joke."
Posted by Chuck Kopsho at 9:23 pm (PDT) on Sat July 23, 2016   
IIRC, I saw some old Western Electric equipment on ebay. They had the series 500 phones, the princess phones and both the rotary and touch tone versions of the Trimline phones.
Posted by packratjohn at 6:11 pm (PDT) on Sat July 23, 2016   
Back in Indiana, you could get the "Joke of the Day" by dialing a local, and real, radio station, 1-312-445-WMAQ.....
When the "victim" got to the Q, they got the joke...
Posted by LoyalTubist at 5:40 pm (PDT) on Sat July 23, 2016   
People who don't know what ZEnith numbers were try to call 931-2000 and get nothing.
Posted by LoyalTubist at 5:36 pm (PDT) on Sat July 23, 2016   
The letters Q and Z were missing from the telephone alphabet.

A popular joke from about 40-50 years ago was that there was a joke line that you could call toll free. You would dial the word REQUEST and notice there was no Q on the dial. Big joke. Ha ha.

In California the emergency line for the California Highway Patrol is ZEnith 1-2000 (Zenith twelve thousand). It's been that ever since I can remember. Zenith numbers were forerunners of 1-800 numbers. You would connect to them through your operator. But ZEnith 12000 is STILL the CHP emergency number. And the only way to get it is through a landline operator.
Posted by LoyalTubist at 4:52 pm (PDT) on Sat July 23, 2016   
San Bernardino, California, had two exchanges: TUXedo and TUrner. TUXedo numbers had four digits while TUrner numbers had five digits. If you lived in the local area but out of those two exchanges, you dialed 888 for TUXedo and 88 for TUrner. But if you lived in San Bernardino until about 1967 you dialed four or five digits for local calls. Actuallly, about a year or so before that, they were all channged to TUrner and an 8 was added to the beginning of the number so they were all five digit numbers.

TUXedo-1212 was dialed simply 1212 from San Bernardino and 888-1212 from outlying areas. TUrner 2-1212 was dialed 21212 from San Bernardino and 882-1212 from outlying areas. The TUXedo-1212 number became TUrner 8-1212 and was dialed either 81212 or 888-1212. Knowing this it's easy to see when we were first able to call long distance without an operator it was so complicated.
Posted by freddo30 at 10:04 pm (PDT) on Sat April 2, 2016   
We had a party line when I as very young, and our exchange was UN(iversity)4 ;
our friends had TE(emple)6 and PO(rtage)2...if you diale PO2-0111you got "the time getter" ; "the time is ... 8 : 17 ... or BL(air)3-9933 you got a great siren noise
Posted by Chuck Kopsho at 7:54 pm (PST) on Sun December 27, 2015   
We had the old Western Electric series 500 rotary dial telephones. I wonder how many people still have held on to their rotary dial telephones.
Posted by Duff at 12:06 pm (PDT) on Fri May 9, 2014   
I just discovered a great old short film on YouTube, wherein "your telephone company" attempts to prepare its customers for the big switchover to dial service. Titled "Now You Can Dial," it's a tutorial on how to use that new-fangled rotary phone.

Also on YouTube: "Kids React to Rotary Phones".
Posted by Duff at 8:08 am (PST) on Tue February 11, 2014   
More and more young adults today are choosing to use their cell phones as their main home phones (despite the superior performance of the landline phone system in many emergency situations, and niceties like multiple extensions). So I worry about the long-term survival of the landline phone system. Technology now seems to be passing it by.

For several years, there were great new innovations, like Call Forwarding, last-number callback, Caller ID, and even Call Waiting (which I happen to despise). But what have they done lately to keep up -- let alone innovate? Let you see Caller ID on your TV screen?

Think about text messages, for example, which you can neither send nor receive via landline. Most phones don't have alpha display screens, so if the landline telcos wanted to add texting, they'd probably go the Caller ID route: sell you a new phone or a separate display (perhaps with a QWERTY keyboard) and charge for the added service. Or maybe they'd have a robotic voice that would read the text message to you on a phone without the display. (Nice, but sending a text meassage on a displayless phone would mean doing "777" for an "R", blind... And would the phone need to ring every time a text message arrived? That could get annoying in a conversation! And what would become of the text message if you weren't home to receive it?) No, I'm afraid we've got a dinosaur here.
Posted by Chuck Kopsho at 3:25 pm (PST) on Mon February 10, 2014   
I'm quite familiar w/rotary-dial telephones, we also had a phone that was a card dialer. Anyway, kids of today will never have to use a rotary-dial phoneas they've become old tech. Now, we have cell/smartphones with web access, etc. Now I wonder, what's next?
Posted by packratjohn at 2:26 pm (PST) on Mon November 7, 2011   
Even into the early 60's we could call anyone on our exchange by just dialling the last four digits. Mom says she remembers using only 3, but we're skeptical. Dad worked for the phone company for 42 years, so he should know!

I still remember the recording for a party line call: "You have dialled a party on your line. Please hang up and allow sufficient time for the called party to answer, then pick up your receiver." You had to hang up, estimate when the other had answered, then pick up your phone and hope they'd answered!

The local volunteer fire department had a paging system using the phones. They could group dial all the firemen, and the phones would ring with a specific ring. No reason to answer, just report to the station. If you were too late to catch the fire truck, the location of the fire was listed on a chalk board and you drove your own vehicle to the site. We also had a fire siren on the water tower behind the fire station. Lived two blocks away.
Posted by Duff at 11:50 am (PST) on Wed November 25, 2009   
Huh. I didn't know that about party lines.

Concerning "Information," I've been told that they switched to calling it "Directory assistance" because so many people were calling with questions like, "How do you spell 'Saskatchewan?" I think that it was also their way of implying that you should have looked in your directory and not bothered them.

BTW, have you ever heard the Nichols & May operator routine?
Posted by Max at 3:41 am (PST) on Wed November 25, 2009   
If you asked the operator for a connection to someone on a party line, a letter was added to the end of the number, so the operator could give the correct ring. Example: BEachwood 4-5789J.
Posted by Max at 3:35 am (PST) on Wed November 25, 2009   
They don't.

A school principal told me a few years ago that one of the pupils came to the office because he needed to use the phone. He showed the kid to a desk with a telephone and returned to his business. When he realized the kid was staring at the phone, the principal asked if there was a problem; he thought the kid might have forgot the number. It wasn't until the kid said he had never seen a telephone like that before that the principal realized that he had no idea how to use a rotary dial.

Our home telephone had a dial but the Collingswood, NJ exchange was not automated until the early 1960's. My first lesson in how to use the phone consisted of waiting for the operator to say "number, please" then telling her the number, or ordering "long distance", "information" "Western Union" or the police or fire departments.
Posted by Duff at 7:07 pm (PST) on Tue November 24, 2009   
I'll bet that most kids today would have no idea how to use a rotary-dial telephone.

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